Sunday, January 20, 2019
Santa Makes a Splash With Y Kids
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Margaret Kraft calls on a swimmer with a question for Santa.
 
Friday, December 14, 2018
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Betcha didn’t know Santa wears a swimming suit!

Unbeknownst to most of the world, Santa stepped out of his ubiquitous red suit and into a pair of swimming trunks this fall as he helped 50 Bellevue Elementary second-graders learn to swim.

The youngsters were taking part in the Wood River YMCA’s Make-A-Splash program, which teaches nearly 400 second-grade students each year to swim free of charge.

 
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These are among the graduates of Bellevue Elementary’s Make-A-Splash students.
 

On Thursday Santa celebrated the end of the six-lesson program by stepping out of his swimming trunks and back into his red wool suit with the big belt as the children peppered him with questions and toasted him with “Frosty the Snowman.”

When one child challenged him, “You’re not Santa Claus, you’re a swim instructor,” Santa was quick with a rejoinder.

Rather than go into a long explanation about how even Santa likes time away from the North Pole, especially if it involves volunteering with programs benefitting kids, he simply replied:

“Oh no, that was my brother, Jack Williams.”

 
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This youngster finished “Frosty the Snowman” with an exclamation mark.
 

Gathering around the Christmas tree in the Y lobby following graduation, the students pulled rubber bracelets broadcasting “Building Strong Swimmers—Make-A-Splash” onto their wrists.

Then they asked a plethora of questions:

“How do your elk fly?”

“It’s a magic potion we can put on them,” Santa replied.

 
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Can’t Santa see this youngster is dying to ask him a question?
 

“Why aren’t you fat?” asked one little girl.

“Because the doctor prescribed a diet because I was too fat,” replied Santa.

“My ears got a little frozen so I can’t hear that well,” Santa added as he relied on his Elf--Kagen Albright, who was groomed for the task right here in the Wood River Valley—for help repeating some of the questions.

When Margaret Kraft, the Y’s Aquatics director, asked who wanted to be one of Santa’s elves, 50 hands shot up. Then the children sang their lungs out, moving their hands to symbolize a big top hat on Frosty’s head, as they sang.

 
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Students at Hemingway Elementary School graduated from Make-A-Splash just before the snow fell. And, if you look on the left-hand side, you’ll see Santa without his red suit.
 

“I have never heard anyone do the whole ‘Frosty the Snowman” song but you,” Santa told them.

“I didn’t know it was that long,” added Elf Kagen.

As the children filed out of the building to the bus that awaited, Santa acknowledged that the Y’s learn-to-swim program, is one of his favorite programs.

“Each of those children will wind up on my wonderful list because they’re doing something I think is going to be one of the most important things they can learn,” he said. “Learning to swim is such a wonderful thing because it might save their lives one day. And they can use these skills to save others’ lives, as well.”

Some of the children are scared to go in the water at first, Santa noted, perhaps because their parents have told them not to go near water.

But, by the end of the six lessons, they’ve made friends with the water, jumping in the pool and floating on their backs and stomachs. They even learn to do something called the trampoline where they hold their nose, go down to the bottom of the pool and spring up and out.

 Those who have difficulty are given additional lessons. Those who show an affinity for swimming are offered spots on the swim team.

The program was started seven years ago after Y leaders learned that Idaho’s children had the second highest drowning rate in a nation where drowning is the second leading cause of childhood death.  What’s more, they learned, children are highly unlikely to learn to swim if they don’t learn to swim by the time they’re nine.  

The program is funded by community donors.  

Teaching children how to swim is the best defense against drowning, said Kraft. National research shows that formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of childhood drowning by 88 percent.

And the Y’s program not only teaches children how to swim but it teaches water safety, water rescue and self-esteem and independence, said Kraft.

Last year students from Alturas Elementary, Hailey Elementary, Syringa Mountain School, Pioneer Montessori, Bellevue Elementary, Hemingway Elementary and the Community School participated in the program.

Since the program’s inception, more than 2,000 Blaine County children have graduated from Make-A-Splash.

Santa noted that the Y has 15 volunteers in its Make-A-Splash program and could always use more.

“You come in or one or two sessions and you’re hooked. It’s a magical program,” said Kraft.

Santa agreed, letting go his boisterous, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

“I like to swim and I like to help children. And the whole thing is so social.”

DID YOU KNOW?

The state of Idaho ranks sixth nationally in drowning deaths per capita, and it is the only land-locked state in the top 10.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with an autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Autism Association.

WANT TO VOLUNTEER?

The following dates are volunteer opportunities:

Feb. 19-22, 25-26

March 5-7, 12-14

April 8, 10-11, 15, 17-18

May 21-23, 28-30

To volunteer, call Margaret Kraft at 208-928-6707.

 

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